“Free advice is worth every penny you pay for it!” With that, the old man proceeded to share with me some pearls of wisdom that I remember to this day.
Isn’t it funny how much we already know? I mean the truth is I pretty much know how I should live and what decisions are best and what decisions are destructive to my life. In fact, it was a bit of a revelation to me when I was taking courses on pastoral counseling and psychology that the consensus is most people already know what they should do in their lives. They just need the environment to pull it out of them.
And yet, even though we know what we should do, we all too often get trapped in what we end up doing! Frustrating, isn’t it?
But the Good News of the Faith “once, for all, delivered to the saints” is that not only is the Faith “good advice” and “timeless wisdom,” it actually reveals how to embrace the power and the strength to actually follow that good advice and timeless wisdom. The Faith empowers us to follow through, to develop consistency in our lives, and to finally break out of the cycle of knowing better but doing the wrong thing anyway. Sounds wonderful. Interested?
I find myself torn between our Gospel Lesson and our Epistle Lesson, so I think I’ll just refer to both!
Let’s read our Gospel Lesson in Mark 15:1-15:
At that time, the chief priests, with the elders, and scribes and the whole council held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate wondered. Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them. And he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
In our Gospel Lesson today, we are given a picture of humans acting against their own best interests AND the Son of God reacting in a surprising way to their destructive choices. The priests have brought Jesus to Pilate to have Him crucified. They make all kinds of accusations against Him to convince Pilate He’s dangerous and must be destroyed. Pilate offers the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, and the crowd chooses Barabbas at the urging of the religious leaders in the crowd. During all the accusations, all the lies, all the rejection, Jesus never hurls insults, never accuses them of lying, and He never lashes out. You see, the Lord is free even in the middle of this terrible miscarriage of justice and honor. He knows His Father. He knows Himself. He has already passed through the struggles of this moment the night before in prayer and has settled His heart on His path. He is prepared by prayer, love, and faith to pass through tragedy to reach the Resurrection. His preparation has made Him ready for this moment. It didn’t catch Him by surprise!
In our Epistle Lesson St. John write his parish communities and gives them solid wisdom in how to not be caught by surprise by their lives, their temptations, and their primary enemy! In 1 John 4:20-21; 5:1-21, St. John contrasts the clear difference between those who say they love God and those who actually do love God. The contrast is stark and it is simply unavoidable. Those who say they love God and don’t are liars (ouch!). Those who actually do love God don’t have to prove it! St. John is pretty direct when he insists that those who love God truly don’t sin as a way of life. They have been empowered by having eternal life to follow through on their baptismal vows. They are stable and consistent in their practice of the faith. They are examples to follow and they do the one thing necessary to stay consistent their whole lives: They keep themselves from idols! (1 John 5:21)
Because they actively refuse to allow anyone or anything to take a higher place in their lives than God Himself, they stay awake to coming temptations. They are prepared for adversity. They are able to see passed even insults to love their enemies. Their preparation in prayer, devotion, and consistent living feeds their ability to face what life throws at them!
Today, does life catch you by surprise? Do you have a consistent prayer life and devotional practice that gives you insight and strength to make the wise choices even when times get hard? The path to this kind of life is found in the consistent placing as your top priority your relationship with God. Your love for God will filter wisdom and insight all through your life, your other relationships, and your choices. Get this main thing right, and you will find yourself automatically making the right choice in every situation.
My dear ones, now is the time for spiritual “spring cleaning.” We move steadily on toward Great Lent. Wisdom demands we pay attention! Wisdom demands we be Orthodox on Purpose!